At a time when both the general business world and graduates entering the workplace face a succession of new challenges, a top priority for the academic community is to make sure programmes, course content and extra-curricular opportunities keep pace with the times.
The Faculty of Business at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) is not only taking steps needed to adopt the four-year undergraduate curriculum next year, it also keeps updating modules, strengthening links with industry, and giving students as wide an exposure as possible through practical internships, international exchanges, and an emphasis on all-round personal development.
'We update individual subject matter to keep up with the real world,' says Professor Howard Davies, acting dean and associate dean (programmes, teaching and learning) of the Faculty of Business. 'Each of our programmes - BBA [bachelor of business administration] and master's - is focused on specific labour market needs and professions. Furthermore, our MBA [master of business administration] has the most experienced students in Hong Kong, and the DBA [doctor of business administration] is specially designed for the small group which wants to be 'scholar leaders'.'
An important concept guiding key decisions is the need to offer 'work-integrated education' - or WIE. In essence, this provides what the faculty describes as work-based learning experiences. The aim is to place coursework, projects and any other assignments in an organisational context relevant to the student's likely future profession.
As part of this, close attention is given to teaching generic skills - effective communication, presenting and the like - which will be of value in any industry or walk of life. And during internships or similar placements, students get real-world experiences.
The university's business faculty has now made 300 hours of WIE a compulsory component for undergraduate programmes.
'It varies between programmes, but basically, for full-time students, we require WIE, with feedback from supervisors, to make sure they have practical experience,' Davies says. 'For part-time students, who have more experience in the workplace, the emphasis is on helping them use theory to understand their experience.'
This general approach has proved popular with students, teachers and employers. This is most obviously apparent in the consistently high number of applications and major companies' willingness to create positions, Davies says. 'For all of our programmes, demand for places is higher than supply,' he adds. 'And at master's level, we are observing a gradual shift in preference towards the full-time options.'
Something else, he notes, that marks out the faculty and the university is the focus on producing well-rounded individuals keen to play their part in society. During their time on campus, students are expected to volunteer for a range of extra-curricular activities.
'It is important to give students space for personal development throughout their academic career,' Davies says. 'We are trying not to overlook that in finalising the new four-year curriculum and [defining course requirements].'
Looking ahead, the faculty also has plans for continued expansion of its pioneering Graduate School of Business (GSB), which offers both part-time taught postgraduate programmes and research-based further degrees.
A point of pride for the faculty is the cultural diversity of its students, many of them from overseas. Davies believes this mix mirrors many aspects of modern global business.